Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Multitude of Favorites 6: Western Writers
I've said in previous posts that I came to reading Westerns rather late. Always enjoyed Western movies, but never really got around to reading them until the last few years-- I would wonder why I waited so long, but I suspect that I came to them at exactly the right time in my life, a time when I could truly appreciate them.
In this relatively short period of time, I've read maybe a hundred or so. Not much compared to other Western fiction fans, but enough to cut the wheat from the chaff, I think, and to know which writers are top-notch. I really love the work of Edward A. Grainger (his Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles stories were among the reading that first got me excited about the genre) and Wayne Dundee has proven to be an expert story teller who never fails to entertain. Also, Loren Estleman's work in Westerns has really impressed me. So has Robert B. Parker's (even though I'm not a fan of his Spenser novels, sorry).
Having said all that, here are four that really opened my eyes to the vast possibilities in Western fiction:
Luke Short had a career that spanned decades, writing traditional Westerns, until late in his career when his work started getting a bit darker. He was brilliant at writing action scenes and dialogue, and fully fleshed-out characters the reader could care about. He was also a great, great plotter. A few of my favorites: GUNMAN'S CHANCE, FIDDLEFOOT, and VENGEANCE VALLEY.
Lewis B. Patten. He wrote from the very early '50's until his death in 1981, but I think he really began to shine in his own unique way in the mid-to-late '60's. His work strikes me as a bit more cynical than his contemporaries, with moral situations a bit more complex and endings that were more ambiguous. I especially liked THE ARROGANT GUNS, THE ODDS AGAINST CIRCLE L, and DEATH OF A GUNFIGHTER.
James Reasoner is a super-humanly prolific writer who works in multiple genres, but he's probably best known now as a master of Westerns and military historical fiction. He got his start writing literally hundreds of books in various Men's Adventure/Western series, like STAGECOACH STATION, ABILENE, THE TRAILSMAN, and the hugely fun LONGARM series. He's terrific at action scenes, dialogue, and character and is, in many ways, the ideal modern writer. Some of my favorites under his own name are THE HAWTHORNE LEGACY, SAVAGE BLOOD, REDEMPTION KANSAS and REDEMPTION HUNTERS.
Elmore Leonard's work in Westerns seems to be gaining more notice lately, even though he's primarily known now as a writer of brilliant, scathing crime novels. That same deadpan wit and sharp dialogue was always evident in his early Western work, and as much as I enjoy his modern-day stuff, I honestly think I prefer his Westerns. If you've never read a Western before in your life, you would probably do well to start with Leonard, particularly VALDEZ IS COMING, HOMBRE, and/or LAST STAND AT SABER RIVER.
Favorite Adventure Writers
Favorite Espionage Writers
Favorite So-Called Literary Writers
Favorite Speculative Fiction Writers
Favorite Horror Writers